On Finding Damian Domingo at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

From Coleccion de trajes Manila y de las Provincias Ynbentado, [1826] p.21 of Volume 3. Unlabelled in the V&A album but similar to Mistisa Mercadera de Manila - A Mistisa Shopkeeper from the Newberry Album.




In the course of mapping Philippine material culture in collections outside the Philippines, we came upon an entry in the UK’s National Art Library (administered under the Victoria and Albert Museum) for a Coleccion de trajes Manila y de las Provincias Ynbentado, [1826] . The entry attributed the three-volume bound album of original watercolour paintings to Damian Domingo. If this attribution turned out to be accurate, the albums would be a previously unknown set of watercolours by one of the most well-known 19th century Filipino artists of all time. In the art market, works by Domingo (born in Tondo, Manila c. 1790-1830), who has been designated as the “Father of Philippine Painting” are all highly valued and command some of the highest prices for 19th century art in the Philippine market.

There are however, only a few Damian Domingo pieces that are of unquestioned authorship. Aside from some oil paintings, his depictions of Philippine men and women in their “costumes” in a genre called tipos del pais or “country types” seem to make the bulk of his work. Usually gathered into albums, the watercolours illustrate the native dress of "indios” and "mestizos" from diverse social classes in Manila and other parts of the Philippines, including Pampanga, Ilocos, Pangasinan, and the Visayas.

Currently, there are several extant Tipos del Pais albums that are attributed (or misattributed) to Damian Domingo. Three are in the Philippines: the Paulino Que Collection (the subject of a monograph entitled Damian Domingo’s World by Nick Joaquin) and the Ayala Album (now reclassified by the Ayala Museum as from Damian Domingo’s atelier) and the Eleuterio Pascual Album which is currently on loan at the National Gallery in Singapore. Two albums are in the United States: the Ayer Collection at the Newberry Library (digitised by the Newberry and available here) and the ones kept at the New York Public Library (although the watercolours here are mostly assigned to Justiniano Asuncion, born in Manila, 1816-1901, and said to be a pupil of Damian Domingo). The album at the V&A would be the 5th and the most recently discovered album in this line-up. It is also the only one kept in a European institution thus far.

The collection at the V&A consists of three leather bound volumes of hand-coloured paintings, each labelled Chili (sic) u Peru, Chili and Manila. The three albums are enclosed in a leather-bound slipcase with “Original Paintings on Rice Paper Showing the Costumes of Chili, Peru and Manila” in embossed letters on the spine. Inside the slipcase, Hyman Zucker is identified as the bookbinder and claims that the box is “Fireproof.” Research has yielded that Zucker is a prominent Philadelphia bookbinder in the early 1900’s.

Armorial bookplate of Hermann Marx .
The three volumes open with a bright green fly page with the bookplate of Hermann Marx (c.1881 – 24 August 1947), a German-born British stockbroker, banker, and a noted print and book collector. Hermann Marx was a financier and set up trading companies that did business with Latin America and Asia. His clients included big names such as Chester Beatty and Calouste Gulbenkian, a British-Armenian businessman and philanthropist. When Marx died in, Surrey, on 24 August 1947, he left an estate valued at £1,262,492 (equivalent to £52,550,796 in 2021) and his hobby as a book and print collector yielded a posthumous sale of prints at Sotheby's on 24 May 1948. It has not been established if the V&A album was part of that 1948 sale, but we do know that according to provenance records, the volume was purchased by the V&A from H. Crossley in Thornton Heath, Surrey on 15 May 1984 along with another album of French costumes.




Volume 1 and 2 – Chile/Peru and Chile


Coleccion de trajes Manila y de las Provincias Ynbentado, [1826] at the V&AMuseum
The first volume is labelled Chili u. Peru, presumably the first in the series as indicated by the title on the slip case. The album contains 30 watercolours, and while they depict similar ethnographic paintings of Peruvian and Chilean visual culture, the attribution to Domingo appears to be arbitrary. Nothing beyond their material genre as illustrative cultural surveys, indicates any artistic link between them and Domingo, except perhaps for the similarly rendered European facial features of some of the works., or the possibility that Hermann Marx, having businesses in both Latin America and Asia, could have aggregated these representations of all of places he had businesses in.

Signed watercolour by Pancho Fiero depicting a tapada Limeña.
One of the stand-outs in the first album are the paintings of tapadas limeñas of Lima. The traditional street dress of Limeña women from the early viceregal period of Peru, the saya was an overskirt, worn tight at the waist and raised to show off feet and ankles while the manto was a thick veil fastened to the back of the waist; from there it was brought over the shoulders and head and drawn over the face so closely that all that was left uncovered was a small triangular space sufficient for one eye to peep through. The manto is said to have moorish origins.

A native artist whose fame may have been the same calibre as Damian Domingo, was the Peruvian artist Francisco Fierro Palas, called "Pancho" Fierro (c. 1807/1809, Lima – 28 July 1879, Lima). He was known primarily for his costumbrista watercolours, which depict Peru’s country life and customs. A comparison however between a signed Fiero with the ones at the V&A album show a difference in style, technical skill and detail. This clear difference led to looking for less obvious sources for the original manto de saya renderings. Surprisingly, a signed tapada was found in a published travel narrative by the Dutch writer Jacobus Boelen, a decorated marine officer who went on voyages to the East and West Coasts of South America, the Sandwich Islands and the Philippine Islands in the years 1826-1989.

Signed watercolour rendering of a tapada Limeña by D. Sluyter in Boelen's travelogue.
From the Coleccion de trajes Chili and Peru Volume,V&A Museum


A black and white lithographic print of Justiniano Asuncion’s “Indio de Iloco”
Boelen's three-volume travelogue includes coloured plates all signed by Dirk Jurriaan Sluyter (1811-1886) a Dutch etcher, engraver and draughtsman. The tapadas in the V&A and Boelen’s Volume 2 of Reize naar de Oost show a striking similarity. This comparison gives an interesting angle to the whole enterprise of making copies from originals, this time, for the purposes of illustrations in a book done by a European for a European publication. But did Sluyter copy a Fiero and sign his name to it? And is there a book somewhere that might have a Damian Domingo original used as an illustration to a deluxe edition of a similar travel book? There are no hand-coloured paintings for Boelen’s narratives about Manila (in Volume 3), but there is a hand-coloured lithographic print of a market in Canton in the same volume. It is easy to imagine however that watercolours or printed copies of these watercolours could have been used as illustrations in a book as seen for example in "Voyages dans les deux océans atlantique et pacifique, 1844 à 1847" by Delessert, Eugène where a lithographic print is included of Justiniano Asuncion’s “Indio de Iloco” now captioned as “Costume de Manille.”

Aside from this surprising European provenance for the manto de saya, it is interesting to note that within the same album, the other watercolours are clearly made by different hands. From renderings of horses to European facial features, to differing skill levels in depicting balance and proportion to muted and softer applications of colour, this album may have aggregated various copies of artistic renderings by different artists. Volume two which is also labelled Chili, has ten hand-coloured pieces, with similar materials as the first album (gouache on pith paper with the same green trim around.) At first glance these first two albums in this collection bearing Domingo’s name seem to have been curiously, and inaccurately lumped together with the Manila Album.

A depiction of a Peruvian woman from the Chili & Peru album, V&A Museum, MSL/1984/27
Untitled from the Coleccion de trajes Chili and Peru Volume,V&A Museum


Volume 3 – Manila


Title page, Manila Album, Colección de trages de Manila, V&A museum, MSL/1984/27
Title page, Colección de trages de Manila, Newberry Library
Volume Three is labelled Manila and is the only one introduced with a title page and some form of attribution. Its title page has a rectangular frame with a motif of a young child at the top with an assemblage of props that will later be displayed in the succeeding watercolours. There is also a “N. 3” at the bottom of the title page, a feature that has also appeared in other albums that have been attributed to Damian Domingo. This No. 3 has always mystified art scholars, and now may perhaps be explained by the combination of these three albums in one.

The introduction in Spanish makes it clear that this is a collection of outfits (or “costumes”) from Manila and other provinces that have been invented or created for “Don Rafael Baboom” and painted by Don Damian Domingo, here identified as the director of the Art Academy established by the Economic Society of the Philippine Islands.
(Colección de Trajes Manila y de las Provincias Ynbentado por D. Rafael Baboom y dibujado por D. Damian Domingo, director de la Academia de Dibujo por la Real Sociedad Economica de (¿) las Islas Filipinas.)

The V&A Manila album has 30 watercolours painted with gouache on pith paper. The pith paper is thickly laid, and shows deep cracks through several of the paintings, perhaps from the tension caused by the green paper trimming that holds it down to the album page. The gouache retains a striking brilliance.

A Comparative Analysis


While the title page of the Manila volume formally attributes the watercolours to Damian Domingo (and the V&A museum replicates this attribution in its catalogue system), inter-textual art historical analysis as well as an examination of materials, iconography and style in relation to the other albums attributed to Domingo, will yield a different conclusion. Like the conclusions reached by Florina Capistrano Baker in her analysis of the Ayala Album, the rest of the essay will show that the V&A Manila Album is in fact, a copy based on the Philippine original now kept at the Newberry Library’s Ayer Collection.

Working with the general comparative observations established by Capistrano-Baker in distinguishing between the Newberry original and the established Damian Domingo copies (e.g. the Ayala album) a few observations about V&A album make it more similar to the Ayala rather than the Newberry original: none of the watercolours are signed, there is a misspelling of Rafael Daniel Babon’s name as ‘Baboom,’ and there are no captions in any of the V&A watercolours.

Unlabelled in the V&Album but identified as Indio de Pampanga Aguarero iin the Newberry Album.
‘Indio de Pampanga Aguarero’ (An Indian Sugar Baker of Pampanga), Newberry Library, 71003
Also, the medium used in the V&A album is gouache on pith. Known commonly (somewhat inaccurately) as Chinese ‘rice paper’, pith is consistently found to be a common base-material for copies that were formerly attributed to Domingo. Pith is a much cheaper alternative to silk or to the imported European paper which we know Domingo used in the Newberry album. It is also unlikely that Damian Domingo himself used pith paper as it became more commonly used as a surface material only after his death. These pith paper-based paintings were usually mounted onto a thicker material before being bound into an album, which has proved to age badly over time. Many of the paintings made on pith paper have since cracked, with the thick mounted base material being too rigid to allow for contraction and expansion in varying humidity and temperatures. As such, a large number of paintings attributed to Domingo in the V&A collection are cracked.


Cracked pith paper. India de Bisaya (An Indian Woman of Bisayas) shown left, Colección de trages de Manila, Manila Album, V&A museum, MSL/1984/27,
Unlabelled but identified as An Indian of Yloco from the Newberry Album. Colección de trages de Manila, V&A museum, MSL/1984/27,


Unlabelled in the Manila Album from Colección de trages de Manila, V&A museum
Mistisa Española de Manila - (A Spanish Mistisa Woman) - Colección de trages de Manila, Newberry Library, 70983

A closer look at the technical skill and level of detail in the V&A compared to the Newberry album also yields some notable differences, mostly pertaining to the fine details (and lack thereof) in anatomical proportions, facial structures, the accurate representation of textile patterns, and of shadow placement.

On the left is the version held in the V&A, despite the more dramatic use of shadow the overall painting looks flat and two-dimensional in comparison to the work held in the Newberry (shown on the right). The drape and richness of the vibrant textile is expertly conveyed on the right, as is the detailed, delicate and ephemeral nature of the lace, unlike the head lace painted on the left which feels almost clumsily disconnected from the subject. The disproportionately small hands of the V&A piece can be compared to the more lifelike and elegant hands of the Newberry. There are also striking differences in fabric colour and pattern, the colour of the handkerchief, the locket, facial features, and the hair style.


Unlabelled in the Manila album, Colección de trages de Manila, V&A museum
Mistiso de Manila (A Mistiso of Manila), Colección de trages de Manila, Newberry Library, 70979

Facial structure is different in these two depictions, as is the condition of the top hat. The worn-out hat on the right creates a sense of realism, whereas the shiny new hat on the left could serve as an example inside a fashion catalogue.
The artist’s skill is displayed well in the details. The Newberry on the right depicts expressive realism in hand in what is otherwise a very awkward and difficult posture to capture. While appearing seemingly effortless, this difficulty is recognised instantly in the V&A piece. With stiff, awkwardly placed fingers, the umbrella appears to bend and wrap around the arm.

Unlabelled in the Manila album, Colección de trages de Manila, V&A museum
"India Ollera de Pasig” (An Indian pot maker of Pasig) - Colección de trages de Manila, Newberry Library, 71001
Certain features of Domingo’s original Newberry Library collection painting (seen right), are different from the contents of the V&A album on the left, such as; the absence of a hair wrap, and the lushness of the foliate background, the more complex colours of which appear reflected in the lighting depicted on the pots. The lighting overall has also been rendered brighter with a higher degree of lifelike sophistication in Domingo’s Newberry Library rendition. This is noticeably visible in the detailing of the cloth where the painter’s skill in capturing the textures, shades, and drape of the fabric is quite apparent.

A Better Copy?


Unlabelled in the Manila album, Colección de trages de Manila, V&A museum
"Mistisa Mercadera de Manila” (A Mistisa Shop-Keeper) - Colección de trages de Manila, Newberry Library
"Mistisa Mercadera de Manila” (A Mistisa Shop-Keeper) - Ayala Collection

When a comparison is made among similar albums identified as copies, the V&A album is clearly very finely rendered work. The pith paper is thicker, and it seems to retain a brilliancy of colour that is unmatched in the other copy albums. There are also many ways that the V&A watercolours appear to have been rendered with a different kind of sophistication ( e.g. the facial features, the rendering of skin tones etc. ) This “hierarchy of copies” has rightly led scholars, like Florina H. Capistrano-Baker’s (Multiple Originals - Original Multiples; 19th century images of Philippine costumes, 2004:5) to question whether we might more accurately consider for instance, the V&A album paintings, as originals rather than just reproductions or replications. (1)

This suggests that the Eurocentric valuations of authenticity and originality need to be problematised. While wealthy collectors and aficionados covet the work of Damian Domingo's and that of his immediate circle, it is important to remember that at the time of their creation, they represented a popular genre of painting, inspiring many, especially in China, to produce work within this art tradition. What remains at least somewhat obscured is the real purpose of these images. As a whole, they might have represented a catalogue for European textile makers to copy as industrial production of clothing and trade increasingly powered national economies. Or they might equally have been items of status among the bourgeoisie that satisfied their curiosities concerning far away cultures. Or they might have been high end souvenirs for travellers and colonial officials to remind them of their time in Asia. Or, as seen in the Boelen travelogue, they could have been used as illustrations in a book.

There is no question that within Damian Domingo's ouvre are some of the most recognisable icons in 19th century Filipino culture. His work endures because of his mastery of the craft, the miniaturismo style so beautifully rendered within a body of work that radiates with simplicity and straightforwardness. Yet as material culture, there is historical and cultural value in the study of the entire genre- including its multiples. How can an analysis of the differences that are discernible in the depictions of dress or landscapes make us understand the 19th century Chinese art export industry better? How do these watercolours show the inter-embeddedness of Western supply and demand for information of exotic cultures ripe for extraction? What was the flow of materials - of watercolours and paper - through and between Canton and Manila and how did this affect the making of art? How did the economic landscape of 19th century Philippines and the role of the British in it, stimulate and affect the production of Philippine Tipos del Pais? Did Domingo have a view on the transnational copying and selling of his intellectual property? Did he even care?


Bibliography

Florina H. Capistrano-Baker. Multiple Originals - Original Multiples; 19th century images of Philippine costumes, 2004, Ayala Foundation, The House Printers Inc, Makati Philippines.

For Bibliographic Citation Details of Florina H. Capistrano-Baker’s journal article Trophies of Trade: Collecting Nineteenth-Century Sino-Filipino Export Paintings about how the various albums are replicas see: https://read.dukeupress.edu/archives-of-asian-art/article-abstract/67/2/237/132863/

Stafford, Poole. Martín Enríquez de Almansa, Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, vol. 2, p.500. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1996.

Antonio Garcia-Abasalo. Spanish Settlers in the Philippines (1571–1599), 3rd Congress of the Associacion Espanola De Estudios del Pacifico Lecture, Cordoba, 1995, http://www.uco.es/aaf/garcia-abasolo/files/63df3.pdf, accessed 08/2022.


https://nal-vam.on.worldcat.org/search/detail/1008040550?queryString=damian%20domingo&clusterResults=false&groupVariantRecords=false

https://collections.carli.illinois.edu/digital/collection/nby_eeayer/id/71001


* Kelly J. Sembrano Bailey is a second-year undergradute at SOAS. From February-June2022, she was an intern for the Mapping Project with funding generously provided by the SOAS Education Co-creator Internships from the office of the Learning and Teaching.


(1)this essay & stylistic analysis is informed by F Capistrano-Baker's research on the previously undocumented practice of Chinese replication of Filipino tips del pais first published in 2004 and 2022 webinar talk entitled "Hierarchy of Originals."

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